Direct to consumer advertising or pharma corruption 101

I wrote this about a year and a half ago. It’s been updated and slightly edited. Most of this info is probably patently obvious to many of my readers, but I know the enormity of this stuff really just started hitting me a couple of years ago, so I think it’s worth talking about here again.

We are currently and for the past several years bombarded with ads, on TV, magazines and billboards touting the wonders of many drugs. People watch these ads and the most vulnerable go to their doctors and most likely are prescribed the drug or a drug in the same class that they saw in an advertisement. What is wrong with this picture. The critics described below are right on.

Critics of DTCA argue that the industry’s advertising is primarily emotional in style and understates the adverse side-effects and as such is misleading. The imagery of the ads is appealing while the potentially serious side effects are buried in the fine-print. They also argue that the claimed health benefits are overstated. Surveys reveal that people who have seen DTCA ads will often request and be prescribed the drug. DTCA campaigns will usually aim to have pre-primed doctors via a parallel promotional campaign. Critics argue that this results in over-diagnosis of a condition and the inappropriate use of prescription drugs, even where non-drug treatments are as or more effective. As a result, DTCA unnecessarily drives up the overall cost of healthcare without necessarily improving the health of those treated. (emphasis mine)

The nature of DTC advertising is an insidious evil. The Media Education Foundation has a video on Google, now available for viewing: “Big Bucks, Big Pharma.” This is narrated by Amy Goodman. It very appropriately questions these practices as well as other forms of pharmaceutical marketing.

The close relative of DTC marketing is the phenomena now known as “disease mongering.” Excerpt taken from here:

A lot of money can be made from healthy people who believe they are sick. Pharmaceutical companies sponsor diseases and promote them to prescribers and consumers. Ray Moynihan, Iona Heath, and David Henry give examples of “disease mongering” and suggest how to prevent the growth of this practiceThere’s a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they’re sick. Some forms of medicalising ordinary life may now be better described as disease mongering: widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments. 1 2 Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers. The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease.

Much of this disease mongering happens directly in the DTC ads. In the case of so called psychiatric disease this phenomena has increased tremendously in the past few years. Ads for antidepressants and now even neuroleptics prey on the fears of the most vulnerable. Ads for Seroquel and Abilify, two neuroleptics being promoted for the treatment of  bipolar disorder are cropping up on TV and even bus stops and phone booths as shown here on Furious Seasons. We might take note here too, that bipolar disorder is diagnosed much more frequently for all sorts of distress that doesn’t even resemble what was considered manic-depression 20 years ago. Lately we see Ablify being pushed as a add on for depression on TV. Abilify is a neuroleptic, an antipsychotic or most easily understood in plain English a major tranquilizer. For depression. That’s just insane. Knock people out good and cold and they won’t be depressed. They simply won’t feel anything. I suffered too long being numbed out for no good reason.  No more for me.

Just another couple of instances of dangerous habits in the world of mental health.

Just for fun–highlighting the absurdity of disease mongering see this from News Target.

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Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters